Resource Review: “No Plot? No Problem!” by Chris Baty

Full Title: No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

baty

Author: Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month

Published: September 2004 by Chronicle Books (apparently I got a used first edition)

Genres: Nonfiction, Writing &  Books, Authorship, Writing Skills, Writing Fiction

Edition Details: 176 pages, trade paperback

Source: {Purchased – Used}

Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

First Glance

Let’s be real. As someone who’s participated in NaNoWriMo for years, I was destined to enjoy this book. My only first glance impression was that my edition might be quite different from whatever’s being sold now (14 years later). Actually, my wife’s joked about buying me the newest 2014 expanded edition just so I can compare the two!

Positive Bits

Humor is often hit and miss. Baty found a good balance, I think, in using generalized jokes and dorky humor throughout the book, all without crossing the line into anything questionable (i.e. sexist, racist, ageist, etc.).

One activity I loved the idea of is the Magna Carta (and Magna Carta II). The short version is that you make a list of things you love in a story (I) and things you can’t stand (II). Those lists then serve as a guide when you feel a bit listless or lost in your plot. I’ve done this activity before (calling it “reader research”), and I think it’s a marvelous way to really discover both preferences and skills.

The language of this book (and concepts presented) never aim over the head of anyone who can read a chapter book. I think a middle schooler could get just as much use and enjoyment out of this book as their grandparent. Baty’s voice is conversational enough to make reading each chapter feel like a chat over coffee (or cocoa).

Less Enjoyable Bits

Every single time Baty directs the reader to take full advantage of company supplies or time, I cringe. Maybe that worked a decade ago, but many companies now record all emails sent and received (for legal reasons). Personal documents aren’t actually personal. So aside from the questionable ethics of not working at work, you have the reality that today’s companies will be far less naive about your digital activities (and printing). That said, a wireless keyboard and a smartphone can lend more honest opportunities to write on breaks and lunch (while avoiding company resources and time).

This book doesn’t include a lot of suggestions on your process itself. It covers the basics of your word count, your timeline, and then a weekly breakdown of how (he assumes) you’ll feel as the event goes forward. Small stories and side notes from previous NaNoWriMo participants help mediate this absence, but it still left me a little disappointed.

Baty wrote for non-writers. His pep talks and advice are ideal for them… and less useful for the rest of us. I think writers need a different approach, largely because we have a familiarity with the process that also makes us more nervous about success versus failure.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. it’s the lack of a deadline. Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen. {page 14}

The things that you appreciate as a reader are also the things you’ll likely excel at as a writer. {page 86}

[Talking about people playing sports or videos games for fun on weekends, not to become famous]

They do it because the challenge of the game simply feels good.  They do it because they like to compete, because they like spending time with friends, because it feels really, really nice to just lose themselves in the visceral pleasure of an activity. Novel-writing is just a recreational sport where you don’t have to get up out of your chair. {page 172}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I’d even buy this book at full price, and I rarely do that with any book. While I didn’t get as much active assistance from this book as I’d hoped, the history of NaNoWriMo and its bare bones fascinated me.

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Book Reviews – in the works

I’m becoming an expert at disappearing for months at a time. Sorry! Consider this an update on my projects, writing goals, and life stuff.

Life Stuff

Last year, I became unemployed in August and spent a month trying to figure out what to do with my life once a terrible retail job was no longer in the picture.

As a result, I poked my nose into Booktube, put together another poetry book, and found a job I enjoyed doing. Working an office job with salary (and amazing benefits) has removed so much stress from my life… and that’s directly evident in my projects and goals since last summer.

To be fair, I disappeared after October… because I started that new job in October. Not a big surprise. I quietly participated in NaNoWriMo 2017 and continued on other writing projects, but I guess I just gave myself some time to adjust to a bazillion changes all at once.

Writing Goals

Since publishing my last poetry book, I’ve been taking a more serious look at my fiction and nonfiction writing projects from previous years. I’m finally in a good place to focus on rewrites and editing and all that other “fun” stuff.

I intend to publish another poetry book by the end of 2018, but other than that, I’m letting a bunch of ideas percolate in the background.

Projects

Aside from writing, I’ve made a focused effort to read through more books we own. I’m writing detailed book reviews for some nonfiction books (mostly books about writing books), and I’ll be sharing those soon. Pinky promise!

Resource reviews are important to me, because some people (like me) can’t stand the idea of investing money in nonfiction books unless they know the book is really worth the coin. Most of mine are used books, but I figure an honest opinion can help others who might be considering a $20 purchase.

 

Dandelion Girls and Other Mythical Creatures – book release!

Dandelion Girls and Other Mythical Creatures, by Larissa Lee

[paperback] [ebook]

My newest poetry collection Dandelion Girls and Other Mythical Creatures has officially been published! This book is a pagan-themed look into my thoughts on mythology and modern life, as well as the magic of the simple things around us.

Here’s a peek at the back cover description:

[all things start with a seed] 

 

when you look at a field full of dandelion puffs 
do you see wishes or weeds? 
magic or just seeds? 
I see dozens of flowers nobody wanted 
who choose to bloom anyway 

 

In this case, the seed was a promise to write at least one poem every day for a year. I figured the odds were on my side; they couldn’t all end up lame, right?

 

Imagine my surprise when a field full of poems sprouted!

 

Between daydreams and moonbeams, I’ve woven poetry out of my favorite myths and fairytales. Every flower (and every poem) is beautiful in its own way, but this particular collection is focused on putting magic into words.

 

I played dandelion and scattered these poems across the pagers with no real rhyme or reason. Enjoy the ride, and land wherever the wind takes you.

Dandelions are my favorite flowers. Seriously!

I’ve posted some of these poems before through my blogs and social media, and I will likely do so again and again. Poetry is made for sharing with others. If you choose to pass my words around to your friends and family, I’m all for it!

I appreciate every single like, share, and purchase. A middle schooler used one of my poems for a school project just last month, and it was mind-blowing and awesome and just… wow. Nothing makes a creator feel better than having others enjoy their creations.

 

Life – a work in progress

I know, I know.

I said I was joining BookTube, and then I disappeared. The truth is… life happened, in a good way, and I had to choose which projects where most important to me. As a writer, that meant taking a new opportunity to work on my catalog of works, even though it took up more of my free time than intended.

To be fair, I also started a new job after a brief stint as an unemployed person (ugh) and found myself included in socialization opportunities with friends (YAY). As a firm believer in seeking my own comfort and happiness as a form of self-care, I chose to focus on my writing with the bits of spare time I have. For me, that means I’m reading less and writing more… which isn’t bad, per se, but it doesn’t help with creating BookTube videos.

I still intend to participate in BookTube here and there, because it’s a wonderful community. But much of what I’m working on right now is offline.

This month, I’m releasing Dandelion Girls and Other Mythical Creatures, a poetry collection full of mythology and modern life mixed together. I’ll be sharing bits and pieces from the book as the days go by; consider them teasers, luring you in until you decide to buy a copy of the entire book.

Get the Ball Rolling!

So… I finally did it. I made a rambling BookTube intro video and posted it online. AAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!

Honestly, I found myself making excuse after excuse as to why I hadn’t started my channel yet. Oh, I need to finish updating my profiles on various websites. Oh, wait, I need to dust and reorganize the shelves. Oh, I should make sure I have the perfect lighting and recording setup before I start. Oh, I can’t post anything until I have a good editor to work with.

Nope.

I’m done with excuses. Period.

I still have SO MANY THINGS I want/need to get done, both as a book reviewer and a writer. It’s a bit of a jumbled mess, between my poetry project (still writing at least one new poem per day), my fanfiction, my original stories, my reading list, and now my YouTube channel. I’m not sure what will happen when, or how I’ll get any of it done. But… why not drag you along for the ride and see what happens? 

If you like my rambling and want to follow my dive into the BookTube madness, subscribe and follow me through my social media.

Writing Projects (in progress) 

I haven’t been posting my poetry for the past month or two, but I’m still writing. For 2017 I decided to make my goal a poem a day; I managed 296 poems in 2016 without a plan, so I’m sure it’s doable. 

Meanwhile, I’ve printed and started sorting the poems I have. My goal is to put together a couple of small poetry books via Amazon’s printing house, so that I can have a physical copy of the project when I’m done. Poetry is one genre I think does poorly in ebook format. 

At the same time, the scam publisher I went through for my first ever book is *finally* releasing my book from contact. Due to their pricing plans and overall crappiness, I haven’t sold any copies since publishing the book in 2009. And back then, most of the purchases were family and friends. Once the book’s free, I’ll convert it to an ebook just to keep it available. 

I’m working on editing my NaNoWriMo story from 2015, because it holds promise. I’ve found a method of reverse outlining to try, so I can find plot holes and rearrange the existing scenes. Slow and steady work, editing is. 

And of course, I’ve got this story idea that’s been percolating for months and finally refused to be ignored. I blame Tumblr. So I’ve started plotting it out, made use of my love for Pinterest by making an inspiration board too. This would be my first non-fanfic story since 2015 as well. About damn time! 

So all in all, this is me. Not sharing, but still creating. 

Persephone’s memories [poem] 

you come back to me with the first snowfall
cold and biting
my soul recognizes the need
for all the death you trail behind you
but I must’ve drank deeply of the river Lethe
because I feel like
this is the first time I’ve found you
all over again
like we haven’t harvested the fruits of love before
I call you Hades as a joke
but your smile is sad
I don’t understand why your smile is sad
but you offer me your hand
tell me I’m all yours
tell me I’m so fucking beautiful
so ripe for the picking
I remember being consumed by you
just as the first bite tears into my tender flesh
your fingers leaving behind dots of decay
until I’m nothing
swallowed by the hard soil and carrion beetles
maybe next time I’ll remember dying for you
maybe next time I’ll turn back before it’s too late

-poem by Larissa Lee

moth [poem] 

we two are the epitome of a moth to a flame
but I can’t quite tell which of us is on fire
and which is drawn to a burning end
I used to blame myself
assumed the weakness was mine
that I had tattered wings hidden on my back and
the inability to turn away from your unholy light
but I did turn away
only to find you wandering
returning to my sight
with an unexpected flutter of hurt
at my extended absence
tell me how to warn you away
all I’m good at is shining brightly
a furnace of life refusing to die out
not even to save a moth like you

-poem by Larissa Lee

Jack Frost [poem]

we’ve always had a strange relationship
in the way you’ve witnessed my lowest lows
hidden in the cold
winter has been my favorite season
but it’s never been particularly kind to me
you tweaked my nose with your frosty fingertips
while my world fell apart
it’s funny
that December is often when my world
chooses to fall apart
but still
I miss you after spring arrives
my bruised and battered heart more obvious
after the frost melts away
like a true winter’s child
I count the months until you come back to me
your first kiss always burns my lungs
but makes me laugh
giddy at your return and whatever it brings
winter is the season of dead things
of letting things go
I’m not sure how I’d handle it without you
even if you’re touch only ever hurts me

-poem by Larissa Lee

another bastard child of Zeus [poem] 

my father accidentally thrust me into being
with a poorly planned affair
though to be fair
all affairs tend to be short on planning
regardless
I lucked out
the centuries mellowing Hera’s ire
at another bastard child
another nail in the coffin of Her marriage
to that faithless fool
but I digress
my father was a wanderer
walked the world the way a bored teenager
trolls the neighborhood for something to do
a bored god is a dangerous god
and a bored man has wandering eyes and hands
at least the only damage was me
a little mistake planted in my mother’s womb
no one wants to tend a garden
of ill-sewn seeds and weeds
so needless to say he took no interest in me
but I flourished despite that
became this demigoddess of the dandelion
this mobile muse
carrying inspiration to places with
the tiniest hint of room to grow

-poem by Larissa Lee